Saturday, August 27, 2016

Diversions and Distractions

Summer always seems like it will be a good time to get a lot done in my studio. I can picture myself with a tall glass of iced-tea, sewing away in my cool, shady studio, surrounded by green and flowers in bloom and birds chirping merrily in the trees. And sometimes it is just that, but I forget how many other diversions and distractions summer brings. Good and bad.

One big distraction this summer has been this.

It is a large subdivision being built directly across the road from our house and studio. Here's the view from my studio window.

There will be 39 houses built here, but before the houses, the land was cleared of all but a patch of thick woods. The corner where two roads meet in a dangerous intersection will be realigned. There will be a huge new culvert placed under the road for "our" creek to run through before it reaches our front yard. Try to imagine the armada of machines, diggers and earth-movers that has invaded our sylvan little corner of the world.

And these are just a few of the ones left onsite over the weekend. During the week, the "beep, beep, beep, beep" of those backup warnings is incessant and could drive a person a little crazy. Just to give you an idea of the proximity, this morning we walked up through the site. Below, Ray is walking toward our house. See the blue porta-potty near the road? My studio is directly across the road, barely visible in the trees. That road, in front of our house is closed for the next month.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention that last Tuesday the diggers hit a natural gas line, sending gas whooshing (the sound was thunderous) into the neighborhood. Rotten egg smell had us all gagging as firemen arrived and told us to leave as quickly as we could. They stopped the leak and repaired the line, allowing us to return to our houses that evening.

Life has not been all noise and destruction. We have been enjoying our grandchildren a lot. We managed to get a fun T-shirt decorating project done before all hell broke loose, the day of the gas leak.

Last week one of the "twelves", Helen Conway, came to Portland and we had a wonderful get together, with Gerrie, Kristin and me, the 3 Portland members and Deborah, who came up from Texas just for Helen's visit. It was the first time I have met Helen in person and it was so lovely! It has been 9 years since we all met online and began our creative collaboration and that experience continues to enrich my life in so many ways.

Helen, Kristin, Deborah, Gerrie and me

I've spent quite a few hours this summer cleaning and organizing my studio. Soon I will post some interesting fabrics I decided I will never use and will be offering for sale. One day I felt I just had to do some sewing on my beautiful new sewing machine, and made this piece. It is small–about 6" wide.

Finally this week I felt ready to start something new. I've been going through travel photos and thinking about favorite places. Somehow a memory of Mexico feels like it might be right for a new themed piece for an upcoming show. And so it begins.

Just this week I got notice that two of my pieces were accepted for this fall's Beaverton Art Mix. My painter son-in-law will also have two paintings in the show—we are pleased!


Sunday, August 21, 2016

When I met Red

When we were in Pocatello last month, my brother said he wanted me to tell his daughters the story of my meeting our grandfather, Raymond "Red" Valkinburg. I would have been happy to tell the story, but time got short and we got busy and it didn't happen. So I thought I'd tell it now.

Grandma and Red in 1924

Red was our shadow grandfather. We never knew him, but cards would come at Christmas, signed by his wife "love, Dad & Jo." He had exited our Mother's life when she was 8 and her parents divorced. He left and never looked back. Once, when I was a child, he and Jo stopped in Pocatello, and spent an awkward hour making small talk and drinking iced tea in our living room. Before they left he gave my sister, brother and me each a dollar. "More than I ever got from him," I remember my mother saying. That was the only time I remember seeing him as a child.

In 1969 I was working as a traveling consultant for my sorority and was finishing up a visit in Texas. My birthday was that weekend, and since I was in the general area I called my aunt and uncle in Albuquerque to ask if I could come and spend my 23rd birthday with them. My mother's sister, Virginia, and her husband Fletcher (Uncle Fletch) were favorites. I adored them. They lived on a dusty country road in a little old adobe house with a corral and barn out back. They were horse people. By day Fletch was a fireman on the Santa Fe railroad, out of Gallup, but horses were their passion. Virginia was tan and earthy, dressed in Levis and turquoise jewelry. The morning of my birthday Fletch said, "Terry Ann, have you ever been to the horse races? I think we need to go!" Virginia stayed home to tend to horses and make a birthday cake, and Fletch and I headed for the racetrack in his pickup truck. It was a beautiful, sunny April day!

On the way Fletch explained how the races would go and how to pick a horse to bet on. First we'd buy a "tip sheet" giving stats and information about the horses, then we'd go down to where we could look at the horses before the race, and Fletch, knowing about horses, would teach me what to look for.

Outside the racetrack, as we walked toward the entrance, Fletch spotted an old guy selling tip sheets, in the crowd. He was old and stooped, with a bag like a paper boy's, filled with his mimeographed pamphlets. "That's what we need!" As we got closer, Fletch suddenly stopped short and grabbed my arm. "I'll be damned—it's Red. Your grandfather." At first I was confused. Then I understood—the old guy selling tip sheets was my elusive, absentee grandfather. Wow. Fletch approached him. "Red, remember me? I'm Fletcher, Virginia's husband." Red stared hard, then extended his hand—"Fletcher, sure—nice to see ya." Then Fletch turned to me. "This is Terry Ann, your granddaughter. Betty's daughter..." Red turned slowly toward me and looked me up and down. Finally he said, "Don't look much like Betty." Then he turned and shuffled away. I saw my uncle's eyes turn dark, then he gently took my arm and said, "Come on— its your birthday, let's go take a look at those horses!" We had good time and won a few dollars, but the mood had changed. In the truck, headed back to the house, Fletch was quiet, then he smacked his knee and exploded, "That son of a bitch! That goddamn son of a bitch! Don't tell your mother that we even saw him!" We got back and Fletch told Virginia the story, again cursing Red in even saltier terms. Virginia waved him off and told me not to mind him—Red wasn't worth getting upset about, and besides it was my birthday and we had some celebrating to do, but I could tell she was a little shaken.

Fletch and Virginia

Of course I told my mother the story and she just shook her head in disgust. About a year later Mom got a call from Jo. Red was dying. Jo wanted Mom to come. He wanted to see her before he died, or so Jo believed. Mom was kind, but firm. "I'm sorry. I truly am, but it's too late for any of that. It's too late."

I look back on that meeting, honestly, without emotion. What a coincidence. What a small world. A story to tell, for sure. And now I am a grandparent myself, and I see, finally, what a sad story it is, and undeserving as he probably was, I have to feel sad for Red and even sadder for my mother. My mother is gone. Fletch and Virginia are gone. I miss them all so much. Red? My grandfather. How could I miss him? I never knew him.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Houses, homes

On our recent trip to my hometown of Pocatello we drove by two of the houses I have lived in, and I stopped the car to take pictures of each. (Probably freaked out the owners if they saw me) I'll bet most of you have done this at some time. There is something so compelling about going back for a new look at a place you once called home. It is almost irresistible.

This is the house I lived in from age 4 to age 14, the first house my parents actually owned. 61 Maplewood.

It was a postwar house like thousands built quickly at the end of World War II all over the United States, in a neighborhood of street after street of identical houses, filled with kids—a great place to grow up. Unlike many of its neighbors, this house actually looks better today than it looked 60 years ago when I posed, miserably, on the front steps with my broken arm at the age of 8.

The iron railing my dad added to the house is still there, and, incredibly, the same screen door. The paint looks much better than it did back then. The only photos I could find of that house were of the front steps, where it seemed I often posed for a photo. Here I am at the bottom of the steps proudly showing off my stylish southwestern style dress, sewn by my mother.

No old photos of the whole house. I wish I had one for comparison.
The next stop was the cute Tudor revival house, that was the first house Ray and I owned. 912 West Wyeth. Sadly, it didn't look great to me. Somewhere in the years inbetween the Tudor details and old siding were covered over with barn-like vertical siding. This made me sad.

Like the other house, I have no photos of it when we lived there, only bits, like what you can see behind my son (wasn't he cute?!) in this old shot.

However, about 15 years ago I made a quilt with our long-gone Volkswagen for a guild challenge, themed "Firsts"—first house, first new car.

How I wish I had documented, in photos, all of the places I've lived. I would love to revisit each one and see how they have changed and remember what my life was like when I lived there, and somehow search for whatever mark I might have left on that house that has become the container for other lives, and see if I can detect any sense of me that might linger there. Humble, though most of them have been, I have loved every house I've ever lived in.

My son-in-law gave me a painting he painted of our last Portland house. I wish I had one of each house. I wish I had known how much I would enjoy looking back on those houses.

And today I took a picture of the house I live in now.

So here's an idea. Go take a picture of your house. Now. Do it. Someday you'll be glad you have it, I promise.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

On the Oregon Trail

Last week Ray and I went to Pocatello, Idaho where I grew up, to help celebrate the 90th birthday of one of my favorite people. It's a long drive, but we get back to Pocatello almost yearly, and I have to say I appreciate the beauty of the place much more now than I did as a child. The city sits in the Portneuf valley near the Portneuf Gap—an opening between the surrounding mountains where the Oregon Trail came through the mountains in the great western migration. In fact the highway we drive between Portland and Pocatello follows the route of the Oregon Trail all the way. As we drove home, earlier this week, I thought about what the trail pioneers were seeing as they traveled this last leg of that great journey. It is a vast, barren desert across southern Idaho and into eastern Oregon—a pretty discouraging place if you want my honest opinion, but then there are grand surprises, like the Snake River canyon and Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls. Imagine stumbling upon this out in the expanse of flat sage-covered desert—but of course the bridge and the golf course weren't there yet...

When I posted this photo on Facebook last week a friend recounted a story of sitting in traffic on this bridge years ago, and watching, in horror, as a young man appeared on the roadway, placed a rose on that railing and then leapt over the rail to his death. Horrifying. Not the first death along the Oregon Trail. I have read a lot of excerpts from diaries kept during the migration years of the trail and was stunned by how many entries were simply, "passed 8 graves today..., " "passed 3 graves near the Snake River..." and repeated day after day. My great-grandmother came, as a child, with her parents, to Oregon on the Oregon Trail. I often think about that and try to imagine it. Years back I had surgery to have my ruptured appendix removed. As I was lying in my hospital bed recovering, the thought suddenly came to me— if I had been in a wagon coming west when this happened, I would now be in one of those graves alongside the trail. We probably can't really imagine just how hard that journey was.
Passing into Oregon, the scenery doesn't change much until you get to Baker City, one of the old pioneer towns along the trail, in a wide green valley, with a view of the Wallawa mountains in the distance.

Baker was our halfway point between Pocatello and Portland and we treated ourselves to a night at the historic Geiser Grand Hotel, in Baker City's charming, well-preserved historic downtown.

A relatively undiscovered gem, Baker City.

From there we headed into the Blue Mountains, which were treacherous for the wagon trains, especially in winter. Even now we are wary of driving through "the Blues" in late fall and winter. This time of year the drive is beautiful and in summer must have been a welcome relief from the desert for the pioneers, despite the difficulties of the terrain.

Coming down from the Blue mountains the land returns to desert, flat and desolate for many miles until you hit the Columbia River.

There you head into the Columbia Gorge, which slowly turns from brown, treeless slopes into wet, misty forest, tall, rocky cliffs and magical waterfalls—the promise of a new, fertile and verdant land that drew all those tens of thousands west. And I always feel what those pioneers must have felt when those cliffs come into view—almost home!

It was a fine trip. I spent time with old friends, dear family and visited my old neighborhoods, filled with great memories. Richard Neuberger, a former senator from Idaho, wrote a book called "They Never Go Back to Pocatello." But some of us do. We follow the old, hard-traveled trail back and forth. I suppose I always will.